It’s hard to walk into a show with an open mind when you’re lectured before you get there about what a special experience you’re about to have. The materials accompanying my invitation to Craft Theater’s Dante’s Inferno did exactly that – telling me they have a “soul-baring and thought-provoking performance style.” My skin began to prickle at the thought of a company that felt the need to tell me that they were going to be provoking my thoughts. I felt, in fact, a bit provoked. While in concept a theater group that values “emotional authenticity and depth” doesn’t seem like a bad idea – in fact, I can hardly imagine a one that would say they’re going for being fake and shallow – I began to think that I might have signed myself up for a very, very bad night at the theater. I love seeing stuff that makes me feel, that makes me forget I’m watching actors. But there was something about drawing so much attention to this that smelled a bit funny to me.
That said, I was still really interested in the content and hoped the hype just represented a moment of American-esque over-enthusiasm. But when I arrived, I was handed a piece of paper that said this: “You will witness deep, open and intense emotional reservoirs. Watching them may make you ‘feel’ in a different way. This was meant to happen. Try to embrace your feelings if you tend to shy away from them.”
Well, then. Shall we judge the work by its results on me? I felt nothing but irritation. Being told I was supposed to have a certain response to a piece shut me down and pissed me off. The air of condescension was choking. As I watched the actors “cleverly” rolling from one scene to another (ooh look how physical we are!) I thought: I need a full body condom to protect myself from this much wank. The tale of a corporate drone working at a soulless (DID YOU GET THAT? IF YOU DIDN’T YOU WEREN’T EMBRACING YOUR FEELINGS HARD ENOUGH) job, selling out his wife to get head/a head (LOOK I WAS JUST CLEVER AGAIN BUT MAYBE YOU’RE JUST NOT LETTING YOURSELF “BE TAKEN AWAY ON A JOURNEY”) courtesy of the boss’ daughter just never really had any depth to it, despite the actors emoting away/wearing loose fitting clothing/grunting. It was like the privileged children of rich parents had been “really touched” by the Occupy movement and wanted to make a modern day fairy tale that would illuminate their privileged audiences to just how privileged we all are and how we ought to turn our backs on the horrors of modern day corporate/consumer culture and learn how to be authentic and maybe fuck a little more.
But, you know, that’s just my opinion. Other people stood and clapped at the end. I was obviously paying attention to my own “thoughts/judgments,” contrary to the advice given to me in the program; doubtlessly the other people were responding to the “different kinds of honesty” presented to them. I don’t know: I go see a lot of theater, and this made me fear that if we really move into a world where only the children of the rich are able to afford to create theater, we will truly have moved into a new circle of hell: the one in which I spent my evening.
(This performance took place on Thursday, January 15, 2015. It continues through February 1st.)